Pushing beyond all resistance, the light of the Newport Beach California Temple has commenced to shine, bringing tens of thousands of visitors from around the world through the doors during a five-week-long open house. “We’re having six to seven thousand visitors a day,” said President Robert E. Greene of the temple presidency. “We’re very pleased with the turnout.”
Announced in April 2001, along with two other California temples — Redlands and Sacramento, the Newport Beach Temple ran aground early in the planning stage when neighbors protested.
After four and a half years, much fasting and prayer by church members in Orange County, and negotiations with the city, the finished temple is a testament of people working together.
“There were people with differences of opinion, but as we worked together, the city gave its approval with glowing reports,” said Newport Beach Stake President Weatherford T. Clayton.
The steeple was lowered to 90 feet so as not to exceed the 100-foot height limit for structures in the city, the granite color was changed from white to Salisbury pink, and exterior night lighting was dimmed and turns off at 10 p.m.
The long-awaited temple opened its doors July 19, first to neighbors, construction workers, and local merchants. There were 1,168 visitors in the first wave.
One neighbor who had been among the protestors said, “Seeing the beauty of the temple and what it adds to the neighborhood, I’m sorry I ever opposed it.”
Another area resident said, “We saw nothing short of a first-class effort and we’re proud to have the Temple as our new neighbor. People are already using it as a navigational landmark. I wish it had the 136-foot spire. Imagine how much easier it would be to direct visitors to our homes if Angel Moroni were 30 feet higher.”
The second wave of visitors included the media and special guests who toured July 20-22. A record number made reservations to attend the open house due to an innovative Orange County VIP call center.
“The Call Center was phenomenally successful in scheduling important visitors,” said David Parker of Ladera Ranch Ward, Mission Viejo Stake, and overall coordinator for the VIP open house. “We had 3,041 confirmed reservations from approximately 4,500 invited guests. Of those confirmed, we had nearly 98% attend the Open House.”
Estimates based on other temple open houses had forecast a response between 500 and 1,000 from 4,000 names. “A total of 2,959 visitors, not counting LDS hosts, actually toured the temple during the three preview days,” Parker said. “The statistics are impressive, but the true results are incalculable. Innumerable lives have been touched and the impact of the spirit in those lives will be profound.”
He attributed much of the success to the many local members who submitted names for the VIP database and then, using the database, followed up with their contacts, planned to meet them and assisted in escorting them when they attended.
Michael McBride of the Harbor Hills Ward, Newport Beach Stake, supervised the call center that was housed at Moneyline Lending Services in Irvine. “We answered a lot of phones. It’s hard to say how many, but we received multiple thousands of calls,” he said.
“We couldn’t have done such a great job without the computer program developed for this purpose,” he added. Programmers from Moneyline were part of the resources donated for this effort. “The systems were tremendous in enabling us to manage the volume.”
Evan Gentry of Mission Viejo 3rd Ward, Mission Viejo Stake and president and CEO of Moneyline said, “We were glad we could provide the equipment and space. Many of our employees are not members of the Church, but they’ve all been aware of the call center’s purpose and have been very supportive.”
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the First Quorum of the Seventy led many of the VIP and media tours. He told visitors to notice “that each room is brighter and there’s a slight incline from one room to the next, symbolic to us of man’s journey through life.”
Elder Stephen B. Oveson of the Second Quorum of the Seventy has been called as the Newport Beach Temple president. President Oveson complimented those who organized the VIP portion of the open house.
“The preparations and organization were superb,” he said. “The LDS hosts all came with the greatest desire to share this beautiful temple with their friends and neighbors. You could see the desire in their countenances.”
He also spoke of the reception center in the neighboring stake center. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “With the beautiful Christus in the center of the room, no one can doubt that our Church is Christ-centered. All the artwork in the temple and stake center emphasizes Christ and families.”
Dr. Amy Thakurdis, a Catholic delegate on the Inter-Religious Council of Los Angeles, toured the temple during the preview days. She said the sculpture in the reception center had a great impact on her. “It is truly stunning,” she said. “The sculptor has captured a profound wisdom and spirituality that Jesus embodied. It equals in my mind the exquisite beauty and grace of Leonardo De Vinci’s sculptures.”
She was impressed by the hospitality of the people she met in Newport Beach “The gift from God I received today,” she said, “was to feel in my heart the spirit of the Latter-day Saints’ religion in every person I met at the temple. I particularly sensed a strong spiritual connection in the baptism and celestial rooms. I could feel the sacredness of the temple’s purpose — and all of this before it has even been dedicated!”
Stefan and Castillia Hochmuth of the Austrian Consulate also toured the temple. Mrs. Hochmuth, an artist herself in acrylics and oils, was especially impressed by the seascape in the first ordinance room in the temple. The Hochmuths had the opportunity to meet the sculptor of the statue of Christ, Angela Gifford Johnson. Mrs. Hochmuth said, “Jesus seems so alive and I love the movement in his robes.”
Sister Johnson, music director in the Allen Ranch Ward, Greenfield Stake, Mesa, Arizona, told the Hochmuths, “The sculpture represents the culmination of a lifetime of my adoration of Christ. I wanted to portray His majesty, compassion and tenderness,” she said.
Explaining that the statue is part of a larger sculpture garden depicting the life of Christ, Sister Johnson said she was impressed with a sense of urgency to sculpt this piece shortly before she was contacted by the Newport Beach Temple Committee art director, Brian Andre of the Foothill Ranch Ward, Santa Margarita Stake.
Brother Andre had seen a bust of Christ by Sister Johnson and was interested in a full-figure statue. Having already begun, she was able to meet the five-week deadline.
“The Lord was the fountain of guidance for me in completing it in such a short time,” Sister Johnson said.
Westminster Police Chief Andy Hall and his wife, Carol, and four children, Ryan, Justine, Valerie and Zachary, listened to Sister Johnson’s explanation. “We enjoyed touring the temple,” Chief Hall said, “but it was especially nice to talk to the artist about this beautiful sculpture and to have her share her feelings about Jesus with us.”
The Newport Beach Temple will be the 122nd operating temple in the Church when it is dedicated in four sessions on August 28. It will serve approximately 50,000 Latter-day Saints in 16 stakes in Orange County.
With nearly 800,000 Church members living in California, the state has the second-largest population of Latter-day Saints outside of Utah. The Redlands Temple was completed in 2002 and when the Sacramento Temple is completed next year, there will be seven temples in California, making it the second largest number of temples in a state outside Utah.
Stake president Weatherford Clayton summed up the feelings of many local Church members when he said, “One of the sweetest blessings for the saints in Orange County was having the opportunity to pay for the temple. We gained tremendous strength and it made the temple become real and our own. Even the Primary children of the county participated by putting their favorite scriptures on small rocks that were placed in the foundation. Everyone knows they had a part in seeing this beautiful building built.”
With the exception of publicity shots provided by Church Public Communications, photos in this article were taken by Carolyn Sessions Allen.